Volunteering (Children's and Young People's Activities)

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 7th December 2006.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan Independent 12:00 pm, 7th December 2006

To ask the First Minister what measures the Scottish Executive is taking to encourage people to volunteer to help with sport and other activities involving children and young people. (S2F-2611)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

We are encouraging people to volunteer in sport and other activities through project Scotland, the active schools programme and other initiatives.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan Independent

Is the First Minister aware that, at a recent meeting of the cross-party group on sport, which was attended by representatives of various sports bodies and voluntary organisations, concern was expressed that the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Bill might deter many good people from volunteering to work with children and young people? I accept that the protection of children is absolutely paramount, but does the First Minister agree that children would be the losers if there were not sufficient volunteers? Will the Executive therefore consider whether the £100 million bureaucracy that will be created by the bill is the best way in which to protect children?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

We have to have an appropriate balance in relation to the important role of volunteers in the community. We would all agree that, since the demise of school sports in the mid-1980s, fewer volunteers have been involved in sport in communities and it is imperative for the future of our country that we involve more and more people in that area. However, we need to strike a balance between that aim and protecting children. There have been examples, including in the area of sports, of young people being abused by people who were looking after them.

Getting that balance right is the objective of the legislation that is before Parliament. We want to reduce bureaucracy and make it easier for people to volunteer while reassuring parents that people who are volunteering in the community have been checked.

Ministers will, of course, listen to all representations that are made on the bill and will respond to those who make them. In addition, however, I urge members not to have an immediate response to some of the more frightening reactions to the initial proposals in the bill. It is important that we keep our eyes on the streamlining of the process and bear in mind the occasions when people slipped through the net because the procedures in the bill were not in place.

If we are going to have more volunteers in sport in the community, we will also need more facilities. In that regard, I warmly welcome the announcement by the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport that we will be providing £7 million for a new community stadium in Aberdeen.

That is long overdue and will be good for that city and the whole of the north-east of Scotland.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan Independent

I also welcome that announcement.

Is the First Minister aware that, if the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Bill goes ahead in its present form, about 1 million people—that is, about a quarter of Scotland's adult population—will have to go through disclosure checks and that any criminal record that such people have might be disclosed, even if it is completely irrelevant to working with children and other vulnerable people?

In view of the limited legislative timetable that is available between now and the May election, will the First Minister consider shelving the bill until the full implications have been thought through and a better system of protecting children and other vulnerable people can be introduced at a later date?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

If the bill were shelved unnecessarily and, six months or nine months later, an incident involving a youngster occurred that could have been avoided if the legislation had been in place, we would all regret that—all of us in this Parliament would, no matter what our views on the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Bill.

The serious way in which to handle this issue is to listen to the representations, take them on board, answer the questions that require to be answered and make any adjustments that are required—all the while ensuring that, at the end of the day, Scotland's children are properly protected. Our objective is to create a proportionate, balanced system that puts the interests of the children first. When ministers respond to the discussions that are currently taking place in the committee, they will have in mind the fact that, while speed is important, it is not of the essence. What is essential is that we get the legislation right.